The LG Optimus 4X HD has a lot riding on its shoulders. Until the Optimus G arrives, the 4X will have to bear the responsibility of keeping LG’s head high in front of giants like the Galaxy SIII, the One X, and the iPhone 5. Thankfully, at least on paper, the Optimus 4X HD looks well equipped to go head to head against the latest and greatest smartphones from its competitors. Let us find out if the actual product lives up to its specifications.
The LG Optimus 4X uses a lot of plastic, but doesn’t feel cheap and flimsy in the way the Galaxy SIII does. LG has eschewed the conventional smooth curves in favor of a design with sharp corners that exude boldness. Its prism-edged design with intricately patterned back cover and a double rimmed frame lends it a more premium feel, besides making the phone easier to grip. The One X is still the winner in terms of comfort factor, and also would have won hands down in the looks department, if not for the frog-eyed lens. However, as things stand now, I find the Optimus 4X HD to be more appealing than both the One X and the Galaxy SIII.
Unfortunately, the Optimus 4X has one major design issue. There is absolutely no buffer space between the display and the capacitive buttons – in other words, the buttons begin as soon as the screen ends. This can lead to some extremely frustrating experiences. If even the tiniest portion of your finger touches the Home button while you are trying to tap the space bar, you will be instantly taken out of whichever application you were using and to your launcher’s home screen. After using the 4X HD for a couple of weeks, I sort of trained myself to steer clear of the capacitive buttons while typing, but I am sure that LG has accelerated my balding process.
The LG Optimus 4X has a 4.7-inch True HD-IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels (312 ppi). Any display with a pixel density greater than 300 should be stunning, and the Optimus 4X doesn’t disappoint. It uses RGB display matrix, which should (at least in theory) lend it an advantage over the Galaxy SIII, which has a pentile matrix. However, I couldn’t distinguish individual pixels in either of the displays. The Optimus 4X HD display is bright – I mean really bright. It has excellent outdoor visibility, and the viewing angles are quite good. However, the extra bright IPS display has its own disadvantage. LG’s display lacks contrast as a result of which images appear slightly washed out. The blacks of AMOLED displays are worth dying for, and LCDs still can’t get anywhere near.
The Optimus 4X features an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, which boasts of a Quad-core (plus an additional power saving fifth core) 1.5 GHz Cortex-A9 CPU and a ULP GeForce GPU. This is precisely what the international version of HTC One X also uses; hence, theoretically both of them should be able to deliver similar performance. I benchmarked the Optimus 4X against Galaxy SIII and One X. Samsung’s flagship was the clear winner, while LG managed to beat HTC in AnTuTu, but trailed in Quadrant.
To be fair to LG, the difference between the Optimus 4X and other Android flagships isn’t particularly huge. The 4X HD feels zippy and smooth whether I am flinging through my pictures in the Gallery or playing an HD video. However, I did notice occasional frame rate drops while playing games like Temple Run, which was somewhat surprising.
The Optimus 4X HD ships with Android 4.0, which is better known as Ice Cream Sandwich. This was perfectly fine when the 4X HD was announced. However, it has already been three months since Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) was unveiled by Google. Samsung has already started updating Galaxy SIII handsets to Jelly Bean, while HTC has committed to delivering Jelly Bean to One X owners in October. LG on the other hand is yet to even commit to rolling out Jelly Bean to its existing line of products. LG has a pretty poor track record when it comes to delivering updates, and it is clear that they haven’t learned anything from their past mistakes. It’s unforgivable that LG has failed to clarify their position on Jelly Bean update for their premium smartphone a full quarter after its release.
As far as ICS is concerned, LG has put in substantial amount of effort to distinguish its baby from the other smartphones in the market. As expected, the 4X runs the Optimus UI 3.0 on top of ICS. Skinning ICS is not the easiest task, simply because Google did an excellent job at creating a refined and aesthetically pleasing interface. Most smartphone manufacturers – Samsung and HTC included, simply fall into the trap of ignoring all ICS design conventions and slapping on a bright, colorful interface in the name of differentiation. LG is no different, but because it retains a sizable chunk of default ICS design elements, it comes off looking better than Samsung. Sony is among the few manufacturers who have managed to get the balancing act largely right by making tasteful design modification to the ICS user interface.
The strong point of the Optimus UI is its customizability. You can change everything from home screen transition effects to application icons. Even the lock screen is pretty customizable. You get to choose everything from how the clock looks to which apps appear in the lock screen dock. And, oh yeah, LG’s lock screen unlock animation is definitely the coolest that I have seen on Android. In spite of heavy customizability, LG’s Optimus UI feels slightly less intuitive than TouchWiz and Sense. Sense is packed to the brim with eye-candy, while TouchWiz uses a lot of clever gestures to enhance productivity.
As I mentioned earlier, LG has gone the extra mile to make the 4X HD stand out from the crowd. Many of the enhancements concern multimedia aspects of the 4X and will be touched upon later in this article. There are a couple of non-multimedia enhancements that I will briefly discuss right now. For a more in-depth look at the features unique to LG’s flagship, check out my earlier write-up on the USPs (unique selling points) of the 4X.
The first major enhancement is QuickMemo. It is essentially an enhanced note taking app that permeates through the Optimus UI. Just tap the QuickMemo button present in the notification bar, and whatever was happening on-screen will be frozen. You can annotate the screen capture and save it for later reference or share it with your friends. You can annotate presentations, documents, webpages, and just about anything.
The other major software enhancement concerns the mail client. The Optimus 4x ships with its own mail client called Smart Mail that offers a desktop-client like two pane view in landscape mode, and enhances discoverability of previous conversations through its smart email-sorting feature.
The Optimus 4X features an 8-megapixel rear cam and an 1.3 megapixel front cam. LG’s camera UI is simplistic, but still offers lots of configurability through the settings menu. Still photography provides four basic modes – normal, panorama, HDR, and continuous shot – all of which are standard features in current generation smartphones. However, the 4X does have one unique trick up its sleeve that gives it an edge over its competition. It is called “Time Catch Shot”. When you enable this feature, the 4X captures five shots in a quick succession, including shots from moments before you clicked on the shoot button, from which you can select and keep the best shot. With Time Catch, even if you are too late or too early with the shoot button, you can still capture the moment you wanted.
In terms of picture quality, the Optimus 4X really shines outdoors. It takes detailed, vibrant yet natural images with minimal noise. The HDR mode also works particularly well and is a great way to capture images of stationary objects under low light. However, one area where the 4X fumbles is normal low light photography. Both the One X and the S3 shoots better pictures under poor artificial lighting.
The 4X shoots 1080p videos at 30 fps. Once again, the poor low-light performance holds it back, but under proper conditions, LG’s flagship is a competent performer. The videos recorded have good color reproduction and low noise, but goes overboard with the sharpness that adds some artifacts. The continuous auto-focus works quite well, and unless you are trying to capture really close objects, the focus readjustment happens quite quickly and smartly. You also get the option to capture images while shooting videos.
As I mentioned earlier, LG has done a lot to enhance the multimedia experience. Most of its efforts show up in the video player. Optimus 4X HD’s video player has four nifty tricks up its sleeve that gives it a clear advantage over its competition. They are –
- Fingertip seek, which shows a YouTube like preview of the frame you are about to jump to while seeking.
- Speed controller, which allows you to slow down or speed up the video on the fly.
- Split-Screen view, which allows you to quickly browse through your library.
- Pinch-to-zoom, which allows you to zoom into any video you are watching. While this is not something that you will use regularly, it is a nice to have enhancement.
A particularly thorny issue with modern smartphones is battery life. While we have briskly moved onto massive screens and quad-cores with frequencies in gigahertzs, the battery technology has been struggling to keep up. The 4X ships with the most firepower. It has a 2150 mAh battery, while the S3 and the One X have 2100 mAH and 1800 mAh batteries respectively. Unfortunately, in real world, 4X doesn’t perform so well. I didn’t benchmark LG’s battery performance; however, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 undoubtedly lasts quite a few hours more than the Optimus 4X HD. The 4X has a good standby time; however, surfing or watching videos kills the battery really quickly.
While purchasing a new smartphone the thing that often has the least impact on the buyer’s decision is the device’s capabilities as a phone. However, a smartphone that can seamlessly stream HD videos, but can’t be used for making calls in crowded places due to poor noise isolation is hardly a smart buy. Thankfully, the Optimus 4X suffers from no such flaws. Call quality is crisp and the speaker is loud enough to allow conversations even in noisy environments.
Connectivity options in the Optimus 4X HD include DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC. LG is also taking a page out of Sony’s book and introducing NFC smart tags. They are calling this LG Tag+. The NFC tags can be used for changing profiles, launching apps, altering phone settings and more with a tap. The Optimus 4X will ship with two tags.
The Optimus 4X is a great phone, there is no doubt about it. It looks and feels like a flagship device, and for the most part, performs like a premium device. The mixed benchmark scores and shorter battery life indicates that the software is not perhaps as optimized as it could have been. However, in real life, you are unlikely to notice the performance difference. The Optimus 4X is fast and fluid, and is capable of running games like Nova 3 smoothly. The user interface is highly customizable and there are numerous unique features to boot. LG’s latest flagship might not manage to beat the Galaxy or the One X on the whole, but it is extremely competent and can stand proudly next to the best of the best devices. The best part is that the Optimus 4X is a fair bit cheaper than most of its competition. Both the One X and the Galaxy S3 are currently available for around Rs. 35,000, while the Optimus 4X HD is retailing for around Rs. 32,000. Regardless, of which of the three you pick, you will end up with a great smartphone. The Galaxy S3 remains the best device that money can buy. However, if those three thousand bucks really matter to you, go for the 4X HD. It has its own share of strengths to justify its billing as a flagship. If LG can manage to get the cost down a bit more, then the 4X might even eat into the sales of previous generation super powers like the Galaxy SII.